The Elementals: Earth

Vortex Repertory Company's ritualistic celebration of earth may make you want to dig your toes into the dirt

Can you dig it?: Melissa Vogt-Patterson in the earth in <i>Earth</i>
Can you dig it?: Melissa Vogt-Patterson in the earth in Earth (Photo courtesy of Errich Petersen)

The Elementals: Earth

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 478-5282
www.vortexrep.org
Through April 20
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.

On entering the stage space for Earth, an ensemble member asks if you'd like to shed your shoes before heading to your seat. It's a canny, even wise invitation, since you have to cross the playing area, which is covered with 17 tons of dirt, and in most folks the first touch of flesh on sod will trigger a Proustian rush of memories: walking barefoot on unpaved roads or freshly plowed fields, soles sinking into a flower bed's soft soil, toes burrowing into the beach's wet sand. Establishing that rich sensory connection to earth – grounding us to the ground, if you will – makes the elemental celebration to come feel more personal and gives you a stake in the earth's fate.

Not having seen the previous works in Vortex Repertory Company's The Elementals series – Air, Fire, and Water – I can't say how Earth compares in form or execution, but it certainly resembles other works of ritual theatre mounted by Vortex: The stage functions as a sacred arena in which the ensemble members, representing figures of myth or legend, gather to pay tribute to a mythic object or persona in songs, dances, and texts. This is one that progresses thematically rather than narratively, with the celebration moving from the conceptual – earth as all other elements: as wave, as flame, as breeze – to the material – earth as the place our fruit comes out of and our dead go into. At the outset, cast members Melissa Vogt-Patterson, Anderson Dear, and Mindy Rast-Keenan are literally buried to the waist, but all the performers are immersed in the material here. They have dug up quotations about earth from two dozen sources – William Blake to Black Elk, Carl Sagan to Rumi – and deliver them with the fervor that we've come to expect from such Vortex productions.

As in a religious service, the proceedings can at times feel lacking in drama and repetitive – we see a lot of hands scooping up earth and dropping it back down – but Vortex Artistic Director and Earth Mother Bonnie Cullum keeps the work moving steadily forward and even injects some storytelling energy into the work via a retelling of the myth of Iduna, the Norse goddess whose apples kept the gods young. The score by Chad Salvata and other composers helps propel the work as well, especially when driven by Dear's full-throated vocals and a cappella harmonies, reminiscent of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Chris Humphrey even provides an anthem to which the audience is urged to rise and sing. It's rousing enough that you may find yourself wanting to defend and preserve the Earth – or at least dig your toes into it a little on your way out of the theatre.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

Albert Race Sample Relives Texas Prison Life in <i>Racehoss</i>
Albert Race Sample Relives Texas Prison Life in Racehoss
Surviving 17 years on a prison farm

Elizabeth Banicki, July 20, 2018

More by Robert Faires
MASS Gallery Moving
MASS Gallery Moving
Gallery leaving 507 Calles Saturday, selling art to fund move

July 19, 2018

Forklift Danceworks' <i>Dove Springs Swims</i>
Forklift Danceworks' Dove Springs Swims
The company's latest community production showed why Dove Springs' pool matters to that neighborhood and to all of us as well

July 20, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Elementals: Earth, Austin theatre, Vortex Repertory Company, Bonnie Cullum, Chad Salvata, Melissa Vogt-Patterson, Chris Humphreys, Anderson Dear, Mindy Rast

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle